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Asus ZenBook S UX393 review: A slim but robust laptop with Tiger Lake CPU

asus-zenbook-s-ux393-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.2 Excellent

Pros

  • Robust build
  • 3:2 screen aspect ratio
  • Plenty of storage
  • 11th generation Intel Core processor

Cons

  • NumberPad 2.0 may be unnecessary for many
  • No 3.5mm audio jack
  • Expensive

The ZenBook range from Asus combines high-end features with attractive design, and for £1,599 (inc. VAT; £1,332.50 ex. VAT) you have every right to expect the best of both from the ZenBook S UX393. With an 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) Intel Core processor, a 13.9-inch touch screen and the latest Asus NumberPad integrated into the touchpad, is there anything this laptop leaves out of the mix?

The ZenBook S UX393 isn't the lightest laptop around at 1.35kg, but the build is extremely solid, making good use of magnesium alloy, which accounts for some of the weight. This laptop is also tougher than it looks, meeting MIL-STD 810G. I found it impossible to flex the lid in my hands, and the base is equally robust. The ZenBook S UX393 is a laptop you could confidently drop into a backpack without a protective sleeve.

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Our review sample of the 13.9-inch ZenBook S UX393 was powered by Intel's 11th-generation Core i7-1165G7 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

Images: Asus

That said, you might want a sleeve anyway, to protect the rather fetching design. The concentric circles etched into the lid are, says Asus, Zen inspired -- maybe you can focus on them when your internet connection next goes down. In addition to this standard Asus design feature, the ZenBook S UX393's black body has been given highlights in a colour Asus calls 'red copper'. This is used for the Asus branding on the lid, for bands around the lid and base, and to frame the power switch that sits top right of the keyboard. It looks both attractive and reasonably businesslike.

Asus has kept Asus ZenBook S UX393 remarkably thin at just 15.7mm, while its desktop footprint is 306mm wide by 224mm deep. All in all, it's a nicely compact laptop.

SEE: Cheat sheet: Windows 10 PowerToys (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

With its 3:2 aspect ratio, the screen is relatively tall, so knowledge workers will be able to see a bit more height than usual on their documents, spreadsheets and web pages, with no compromise on the ability to have two working windows open side by side.

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Bezels are fashionably minimal -- 2.8mm at the sides, 6.67mm at the top and 8.26mm at the bottom. Asus calls its low-bezel design NanoEdge and claims an impressive 92% screen to body ratio.

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When opened, the lid raises up the laptop's base for a more ergonomic typing angle.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The 13.9-inch IPS LCD touch screen has a resolution of 3,300 by 2,200 pixels (285.3ppi), with brightness going up to 500 nits. It is reflective, which is a little irritating but far from unusual. When the lid opens, the bottom extends beyond the base section, raising the keyboard slightly. It's quite a clever way of delivering good keyboard ergonomics.

The display hinges back to 135 degrees, which is perfectly adequate for standard laptop-mode working. However, it's a pity that this is not a convertible laptop -- not least because the stereo speakers are really quite good, and lend themselves to use in presentations and after-hours entertainment.

The keyboard occupies almost the full width of the chassis. The QWERTY keys are generously sized, the Enter key is single height but relatively long, while the left and right Shift keys are even longer. The Fn keys are half height. The key action is bouncy and incredibly quiet, and while there's a small amount of flex in the keyboard, it's not enough to make typing uncomfortable or cause concern. I found the whole arrangement ergonomic to use, and was happy touch-typing at my usual speed. 

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The keyboard is comfortable to type on and quiet in operation. You can toggle the touchpad-embedded NumberPad on and off.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Beneath the keyboard, the touchpad has a wider aspect ratio than the screen. It functions fine as a touchpad, and also incorporates NumberPad 2.0. Tapping a calculator icon in the top right corner toggles a number pad to appear or disappear on the touchpad, and you can use this in applications at the same time as navigating with the cursor and the embedded buttons. So, for example, typing out a document in a word processor can be achieved using the keyboard, with numbers added using the NumberPad 2.0. Or you can enter numbers into a spreadsheet using this method. It's rather clever, although many users will probably ignore it.

Asus implements a fuller set of in-touchpad features in other laptops via its ScreenPad design, which supports applets and uses the touchpad as a secondary screen. Take a look at ZDNet's Asus ZenBook Flip 15 UX563FD review for an example. 

ZDNet's review unit came with an 11th-generation (Tiger Lake) Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor with integrated Iris Xe Graphics. This 10nm chip runs at a maximum (TurboBoost) clock speed of 4.7GHz and has a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 12W-28W. This configuration is not quite yet available in the market, but is only a couple of weeks away at the time of writing. It had 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Ports and connectors are minimal but adequate: a USB 3.2 port and a MicroSD card slot on the right, and a full-size HDMI connector and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which is for charging the battery, on the left. 

According to Asus, you'll get 14 hours from the 67Wh battery, but I'm not sure that's achievable in day-to-day usage. In several four-hour working sessions with multiple browser windows open, writing into online apps and streaming music and video, I saw the battery fall from a full charge to between 65% and 55%. So, battery life between 8 and 10 hours looks more likely. The good news is that this laptop charges fast: it can reach 60% from empty in 39 minutes, and I found that 15-minute power boosts were quite effective.

Conclusions

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Image: Asus

The Asus ZenBook S UX393 is a well-built 13.9-inch laptop equipped with Intel's latest 11th-generation processor, plenty of storage and a keyboard that's a delight to use. The 3:2 screen aspect ratio is unusual, but knowledge workers may appreciate it. NumberPad 2.0, which integrates a tappable numeric pad into the touchpad, is a clever feature: not everyone will go for it, but it will be a useful option for some.

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